DON'T BE FOOLED Writers can be so desperate for affordable health insurance that we're easy pickings for scammers. It's hard to imagine a health insurance company crooked enough to take your money and then not pay your claims when you get sick, but it has happened. Several years ago, in fact, a company called Employers Mutual collected premiums from National Writers Union members and then neglected to cough up for claims. Before signing up with any health insurance plan, check with your state's Insurance Commission to make sure the company is licensed to do business in your state and ask whether any complaints have been reported. For more information on insurance scams and how to protect yourself, visit the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud at insurancefraud.org.
The life of a freelancer is full of trade-offs. You can work from Poughkeepsie or Peoria or Paris, but you're still responsible for paying quarterly taxes. Your commute is 30 seconds and involves slippers instead of gas, but you don't get sick days or vacation days. You're in charge of your time, but you're also in charge of finding and paying for health insurance.
If you're a freelancer—or you plan to become one—health insurance is a major issue. "We have one of the most difficult and expensive systems in the world," says Bruce Phillips, a senior economist for the National Federation of Independent Business Research Foundation. "It works like no other product."
Unfortunately, it's a product that you need if you want to stay healthy (and not go broke if you get sick), so we found some creative ways writers can get affordable insurance. You can do your own shopping by contacting insurance agents, insurance providers or your state's Insurance Commission, but you should also check out these unique options to see if they work for you.
Let your alma mater help you. Some college alumni associations offer short-term health insurance that will cover you for up to five years after graduation. For example, Duke University and dozens of other universities offer insurance through GradMed. Contact the college you graduated from to find out if they offer a plan or go to gradmed.com to see if your college is listed. (GradMed isn't the only alumni insurer, but it's a good place to start.)
THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
As a business owner (yes, you're a business owner), you may be able to get group health insurance through the Chamber of Commerce. Bonus: You can schmooze local business owners at networking events and take advantage of other membership perks. Locate your local Chamber at chamberofcommerce.com.
YOUR LOCAL HARDWARE STORE
No, we don't mean that you should head to your local hardware store and get that broken leg fixed with finishing nails and duct tape. In 2006, home-improvement retailer The Home Depot launched the Business ToolBox, which offers many services to small businesses, including health insurance. Customized solutions in individual and group coverage are available in all 50 states. To get more information or to apply, call (866)333-3099 or visit hdbusinesstoolbox.com.
YOUR STATE'S FARM BUREAU
The American Farm Bureau is an independent, nongovernmental, voluntary organization representing farm and ranch families. Many offer affordable health insurance, and you can even participate if you don't know a pitchfork from a hoe. Find your state's farm bureau at fb.org.
Some professional associations for writers, artists or freelancers in general offer group health-insurance plans. You typically need to join the association, and criteria and membership prices vary, so check out their websites to find out if you're eligible. Be sure to compare prices with other insurance options to make sure you're saving money once you add in the organization's annual membership fee. Some of the most well-known groups are:
THE AUTHORS GUILD: Members can get health insurance under several different Authors Guild plans. Plans vary by state. Call the membership coordinator at (212)563-5904 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
NATIONAL WRITERS UNION: The NWU is now offering health-insurance coverage to members in various parts of the country. Visit nwuhealth.org for the scoop.
FREELANCERS UNION: The Freelancers Union offers group-rate health insurance in New York State. For more information, visit freelancersunion.org.
FRACTURED ATLAS: Fractured Atlas is a nonprofit organization that serves artists and arts organizations across the country. Their health-insurance availability varies by state; check out fracturedatlas.org for more details.
THE EDITORIAL FREELANCERS ASSOCIATION: The EFA offers discounted group rates on health-plan options for members in the New York area and some other areas of the United States. Visit the-efa.org for more information.